A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
If there’s one thing I hate about religion books, it’s that arrogant attitude of smug satisfaction that we get when we think we’ve produced the ultimate answers to all the deep questions that have bothered the greatest thinkers of the ages. If the answers were so simple, those questions wouldn’t still be with us.
– Chapter 3, “Good Science, Bad Philosophy”, p.31
I like God’s Mechanics a great deal. In fact, it has become one of my very favourite books. This makes it extremely hard to review. I am neither a scientist nor a theologian, so I am ill-placed to assess this book in the light of current debate or tell you how well it describes the techie mind. I can’t hold it up to any measurable criteria, like I could with a biography or a history text. I might as well be standing here with a big placard that says I THINK THIS BOOK IS AWESOME. Well, I suppose it would be concise.
However, since this book is awesome and I would like to persuade you to read it and see if you like it too, I will try to be a little more expansive. From the cover, it looks like it might be some grand treatise on the relationship between science and religion. Don’t be fooled. It is something far more approachable and, paradoxically, a lot more complicated: a personal reflection by a Jesuit astronomer (Consolmagno is on the staff of the Vatican Observatory) about how faith works for him and the techies around him. It’s neither a homily nor a polemic; it reads rather like a series of short informal talks on a common theme.
Brother Guy Consolmagno writes in an easy conversational style, with a reassuring charm which makes it that much easier when he drops you into some gaping chasm of transcendental uncertainty and leaves you there. (He does have a slight tendency to cheesy metaphor, but it does the job.) This book is all about uncertainty. Consolmagno has no illusions about the extent of what he or anyone can really claim to know about the universe; there is no question here of proving or disproving anything. He talks frankly about his faith, his perceptions, biases and bugbears. You will almost certainly disagree with him at some point, perhaps even strongly. You might even disagree all of the time. And that’s the great thing about this book: it doesn’t matter. The author isn’t telling you how things are, he’s telling you how he’s inclined to see them and why he thinks that might be. That can be interesting from any angle, and I dare say the interest actually increases the further away you stand from his starting point. (If you are reading this and happen to be an American Catholic scientist in Holy Orders, the comment section is just below).
As with any book that deals in the personal, the transcendental and the slippery, the appeal of God’s Mechanics is highly subjective. In other words, I have no idea if you will like it or not (although I urge you to give it a try). I can only say that it worked for me in a way that more didactic approaches never do. Consolmagno leads by example: his exploration of his beliefs and assumptions brought me to look at my own more clearly. I originally chose to read this book out of intellectual curiosity. That extra dimension – the invitation to discovery – was something I never anticipated. It proved to be truly enriching.
Jossey-Bass, 256 pp., ISBN: 978-0787994662
Join us tomorrow for Part I of Kirsty’s interview with Brother Guy Consolmagno.